Devout Muslims self-flagellate with swords in bloody religious ceremony

Members of a Muslim sect have been pictured slicing their own scalps with swords to spill their blood in a holy festival.

Gruesome scenes of blood trickling down men's faces into their beards and clothing were captured on camera in Najaf, Iraq, on Thursday.

Shiite Muslims self-flagellate themselves each year to mark Ashura, the ninth day of Muharram in the first month of the Islamic calendar.

Cameras were at hand in the Imam Ali shrine to picture the pained grimaces and collective suffering from the mass demonstration of faith.

By taking a sharp blade to their own flesh, participants believe their sins will be cleansed from their bodies.

Helpers can be seen at the ceremony offering care and first aid to those who perhaps drew a little too much blood and needed urgent attention in the form of water and cloths.

It is also seen as a way of showing respect and grief for Husayn ibn Ali al-Hussein and his family, who were killed alongside him at the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD.

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Shia worshippers bookmark the ceremony each year as an important event to commemorate the Prophet Mohammed's grandson, Husayn ibn who lost his war with Ali Yazid I.

They believe Husayn ibn Ali went willingly to his death in an act of self-sacrifice.

The conflict was caused by a dispute over who the rightful successor to Mohammed was.

Not all Muslims agree with the bloodletting ritual known as Tatbir as some claim it is self-harm and therefore forbidden.

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The Ashura festival is a national holiday in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iraq, Iran, and Lebanon.

Some critics have slammed the Ashura festival in the past, claiming it psychologically damages those taking part, particularly children.

In recent years it has become increasingly popular to donate blood for the festival, however many still take part in the public bloodletting.

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